An album per year, part 4

13Aug08

Because it turns out the current year isn’t 1994, we continue….

1995: Oasis — (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Not only do I have to plead guilty to the charges of rockism, but I have to own up to preferring Oasis to Radiohead. Radiohead’s one of those bands I’ve always respected more than I liked, but that’s not an indictment of The Bends — in fact, I’ll stand by the position that it’s far superior to OK Computer. It’s simply that Oasis is on my MP3 player and Radiohead isn’t. I’ve got a soft spot for Oasis because, at the height of grunge, it was a novelty for someone to come along and express a preference for cocaine over heroin and actually wanting to be a rock stars instead of the reluctant voice of a generation. It doesn’t hurt that Noel Gallagher had the songs to back it up. Plagarist that he is, he picks catchy tunes to steal. And after all his own blatant thievery, he had the gall to accuse Green Day of ripping off “Wonderwall” for their “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. (Both were later sampled in Party Ben’s mashup “Boulevard of Broken Songs”.)

1996: Mojave 3 — Ask Me Tomorrow

It was my friend Kendra who first mentioned Mojave 3 to me. I didn’t follow up on that tip for years, and I’ve regretted that. Arguably, you don’t need more than one Mojave 3 album, but that’s just because they perfected their slowcore formula the first time out. Of course, with former members of Slowdive constituting half the band, they had time to figure it out. It’s pretty, quiet music, perfect for going to bed to (so I offer it as my defence against the aforementioned charges of rockism). I was pretty delighted when I realized that “Candle Song 3” was actually a Christmas song, so I could put it on one of my holiday mixes.

1997: The Dandy Warhols — … The Dandy Warhols Come Down

I am just so unbelievably full of self-loathing for picking this. The Dandy Warhols are just such hipster douchebags. And, ironically, I’d have so much more hipster cred for picking Yo La Tengo’s I Can Feel the Heart Beating As One. But once again, it comes down to the question of which album I actually listen to the most, and sadly, it’s the Dandys’ Come Down. (Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia is better, mind you, thanks to the mini-suite of the three songs that open that album, not to mention that it furnished the theme song to the short-lived Judd Apatow TV series Undeclared.) Not everything here is a winner — the last couple of tracks are a particular waste of time, but you can just turn off the album after “Hard On for Jesus” — but a lot of it is catchier than Spanish influenza. This presents a good example of how a good concert experience can totally change your outlook on an album. I saw the Dandys play (and felt like the oldest, unhippest guy in the room while doing it), and there was this little Asian guy in front of me constantly calling out for them to play “Boys Better” and going absolutely insane with joy when they did. And you know what? He was right: “Boys Better” is a pretty rocking song. Thank you, little Asian guy.

1998: Billy Bragg and Wilco — Mermaid Avenue

Woody Guthrie is my favorite poet. As a songwriter, I don’t know; I’ve heard “This Land is Your Land” and I appreciate the actual sentiments behind the song that don’t realy come across in most schoolchildren’s performance of the song, but I can’t say I’ve heard a lot of his actual tunes. The idea behind Mermaid Avenue was that when Guthrie died, he left behind a ton of songs. Well, he left the lyrics, but he took the tunes with him. So his daughter Nora contacted Billy Bragg, who’s basically the modern Woody Guthrie (albeit British), to write new tunes, and Bragg brought in Wilco to help him. I’m a Wilco fan, but it’s actually the Bragg songs that shine brighter. But the real treasure is the lyric sheet. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes ribald, these are the simple but affecting words of a soul who, though he may be decades gone, lived and loved as intensely as anyone who ever did.

1999: The Magnetic Fields — 69 Love Songs

It’s a tough choice picking anything over gems such as the Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin or Wilco’s Summerteeth. So how does 69 Love Songs do it? Volume. Sprawling over three discs and multiple musical genres, 69 Love Songs delivers on the promise implicit in its title with Stephin Merritt’s trademark belnd of tunesmithy and lyrical wit. With three hours of music, there’s something for everyone, and new favorites continually reveal themselves. Recently, for example, I was able to get past the weird production that makes “Abigail, Belle of Kilronan” a seasickness-inducing experience on headphones and realize what a lovely little ballad it is. And I also finally realized that “Wi’ Nae Wee Bairn Ye’ll Me Beget” may sound like a traditional Scottish ballad in the style of Robert Burns, but actually advocates anal sex as a means of contraception.

2000: The Smashing Pumpkins — Machina/The Machines of God

Writing a list of favorite albums is a little futile since it can change from day to day. Machina might not have been my original choice for 2000, but I’m in the process of absorbing the Pumpkins’ Zeitgeist and happen to be in a bit of a Corgan phase at the moment. I already said I hate liking him, so it’s even more painful to admit that he might be a sort of genius, albeit one greatly in need of some sort of editor. Much as I said earlier that Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness would be better compressed into a single disc, Corgan might have been further ahead to combine the best of Machina/The Machines of God and its free online-released sequel, Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music, into one album. The latter’s “Real Love”, “Home”, and “If There Is a God” are easily as good as anything on the former and better than some of it, for example. But what’s here is still good enough to make it my favorite album — for now.

2001: Beulah — The Coast Is Never Clear

It’d be pretty hard to unseat this as my favorite album of 2001, though (that said, if Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot had come out on time, it might have had some competition). I’ve already made it abundantly clear how I feel about Beulah. My lovely girlfriend Candace likes them just as much, which is just another reason to like her. I introduced her shortly before a trip she made to Nepal and Tibet about a year ago, and they helped get her through her homesickness. What I find curious is that all her favorite songs differ from mine. I chalk that up to the fact that she listens to music all randomized on an iPod, and I usually have to hear it in an album format. I do also wonder why “Battle Cry of the West” got relegated to a B-side, considering that its lyrics actually furnish the album’s title. And also, I wonder how the band’s fortunes might have been different if they hadn’t had the ill fortune to release this album on September 11, 2001, with a picture of an airplane on the disc, no less.



7 Responses to “An album per year, part 4”

  1. 1 rupertdogstein

    I can’t stand Billy Bragg’s singing. I like the Jeff Tweedy songs from Mermaid Avenue a lot more. CALIFORNIA STARS++

  2. I really loved that Beulah CD. Unfortunately they were horrible the time I saw them live and it kind of killed my interest. And yes, you definitely should have gone with YLT – not just for hipster cred but to demonstrate good taste!

  3. Rupert: “California Stars” is definitely the standout track of the Wilco stuff. That’s greatest hits territory right there. I just think Billy Bragg captures the spirit of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics a little better. But I don’t own a single solo thing by him, though I like “Greetings to the New Brunette” a lot.

    Thom: Perhaps I regain hipster cred by mentioning that I listened to YHF in 2001, before it was released, along with the YHF demos, which contain a wealth of excellent material. (I made a little compilation including a lot of that stuff that I call Zebra Hotel Foxtrot that’s way better than the actual next album. But it didn’t actually come out until 2002, so it’s officially in contention for that year. As for Beulah, I think they actually put on the best live show I’ve ever seen. Maybe you got them on an off night — maybe they were all sulky at each other because Miles punched Bill in the back of the head offstage or something.

  4. Live Forever!

  5. I was actually saying YLT as in Yo La Tengo. I like Wilco, but it took me years to truly get into them. I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One has been a music staple for me since the day of it’s release.

    It may have been the venue with Beulah – usually Maxwell’s (in Hoboken, NJ) is one of the best, but with the horns and everything the stage got a little too crowded.

  6. 6 Peter Lynn

    Thom: Whoops! I thought you mistyped. Instead, I misread! I actually do like that Yo La Tengo album, although that’s the kind of thing Jay makes fun of me for, pointing to this Onion article.

  7. Awesome! That’s one of my favorite Onion articles ever.


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